Disappointing: Famed Copyright Rogue Danger Mouse Sues Home Depot And Pizza Hut... Over Copyright

from the glass-houses dept

Regular Techdirt readers, as well as fans of hip-hop and/or Gnarls Barkley, will be familiar with Danger Mouse, the highly respected producer who operates well outside of copyright law. He's perhaps most famous for The Grey Album—a mashup of Jay-Z and The Beatles (praised by the original artists) that sparked EMI to go on a copyright rampage, in turn leading to the Grey Tuesday movement that made the album one of the most popular bootlegs ever, until EMI eventually gave up. Later, he released an album to stores as a blank CD-R with artwork and liner notes while hinting that fans should find the music itself "by whatever means", since he knew there was no way he could legally sell it. Danger Mouse is one of the perfect examples of how copyright is interfering with culture and creativity in very real ways, contrary to its supposed goals.

So it's surprising, and very disappointing, to learn that Danger Mouse and The Black Keys are suing over the unauthorized use of their music in commercials:

The Black Keys sued Home Depot Inc. (HD) and Yum Brands Inc. (YUM)’s Pizza Hut, alleging the companies used the rock duo’s songs in commercials without authorization.

Patrick Carney and Daniel Auerbach, known as the Black Keys, sued Home Depot for the unauthorized use of “Lonely Boy,” and sued Pizza Hut and its advertising company, Interpublic Group of Cos., over “Gold on the Ceiling,” in separate filings yesterday in federal court in Los Angeles. The group said Pizza Hut and its ad agency created a commercial for a product called Cheesy Bites Pizza that “prominently features significant portions” of “Gold on the Ceiling.” Home Depot ran a commercial for its Ryobi brand of power tools that uses parts of “Lonely Boy,” the band said.


Also suing the companies is co-writer Brian Burton, known professionally as Danger Mouse. The plaintiffs asked for jury trials of the copyright-infringement suits.

Now, obviously there are a few key differences here. The in-depth remix work of artists like Danger Mouse has a strong transformative fair use argument that remains mostly untested in court, while the same cannot really be said for Home Depot and Pizza Hut commercials. Moreover, while it would not have been prohibitive for these big companies to seek a license, it was pretty much impossible for Danger Mouse to release his work legally. And, generally speaking, a lot of people are going to find it easier to support a person who defies copyright for the sake of art than a company that defies it for the sake of a commercial.

Nevertheless, I think this is a pretty bad move on Danger Mouse's part, and an unimpressive one. He's likely to face a lot more copyright issues in his career—as are artists he's inspired with his incredibly popular, but often infringing, work—and he'd be in a much better position to fight them if he could show that he never went after anyone with his own copyrights. There are much better ways to deal with a situation like this. It's the sort of thing the internet pays attention to, and if he had simply been open, human and awesome in informing people about what happened, it's likely that his supporters would have mobilized, and pretty soon the companies would be banging down his door in the hopes of reaching an agreement and shaking hands in public. Hell, he probably could have remixed the commercials and made something infinitely cooler, spreading his message that way and making the companies look silly. By going the legal route, he comes off as somewhat hypocritical, despite the differences between the situations.

A lot of people think, because we generally oppose the aggressive enforcement of copyright here at Techdirt, that we think any and all copying should run rampant. But that's not true. If someone is being genuinely "exploited" (a favorite term of copyright maximalists), then there are ways to address that—and the best one is by letting the public decide. Social pressure is an incredibly powerful thing, and employing it before running to the courts allows these situations to be resolved in much more natural ways that actually reflect the development of our shared, public culture. Sure, sometimes you run up against an intransigent Charles Carreon—but even then, you can apparently raise a bunch of money for charity and come out on top in the court of public opinion. Meanwhile, you leave the doors open to an amicable solution—maybe even one that creates new opportunities for both parties—which is a virtual impossibility once the legal nastygrams start flying.

Filed Under: danger mouse, grey album, open human and awesome, social pressure, the black keys
Companies: home depot, pizza hut

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2012 @ 6:49pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    ...to be dealt with culturally, through the "frowning upon". That's my point. Do some people get screwed? Yes, but not as many as get screwed by copyright. Better to let the culture deal with it. As you say, the culture frowns on biting - in fact in can generate quite a shitstorm.

    Really? Let's hear this. Winston Brothers record a loop that launches entire genres, don't get a dime. Who's getting screwed by copyright? Jay-Z? Biggie Smalls? I think they can handle it.

    And yet Greg Gillis is hardly a supporter of the way sample licensing works. And Dangermouse has not been sued, but he's had some of his most popular work blocked, with EMI attempting to keep it off the internet. Of course, EMI lost and the art won - why? Not because of the courts - because of the culture, and the social pressure pushing back.

    Dangermouse was blocked? I've never had trouble listening to his stuff. And he was subsequently hired, Gnarls Barkley.

    And yet the Bridgeport ruling casts a large shadow. Everyone settles. Nobody tests it in court. "Get a license or do not sample" has become the effective rule for commercial work in the majority of cases - and those who violate it risk lawsuits. Jay-Z has been sued. Kanye West has been sued. 50 Cent has been sued. Beastie Boys just got sued.

    You just listed quite a few major label artists who are "testing it in court." They haven't settled. Maybe the current legal rule -- did you copy, was it substantial -- isn't so bad.

    Nevertheless, it's the definition I stand behind. If the community disagrees, let the community speak - that's kind of my point. The one definition of rightful copying that I think is ridiculous is the courts' -- especially the highly influential rulings in both Biz Markie and Bridgeport, both of which contain language that runs directly counter to the reality of sampling culture. To assert that the rule "get a license or do not sample" does not "hamper creativity in any significant way" is absurd.

    And yet, as I pointed out, those rules didn't hamper sampling; it's at an all time high.

    There is more sampling now then when the rule you said hampers sampling went into effect.

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